"When the clock starts, you'll get so busy someone will have to remind you to breathe," announces Glenn Gill, science teacher at North Clay Middle School and event Co-organizer, to anxious 8th grade students. "You're going to experience medical emergencies, landing problems, technical malfunctions and possibly even meteor storms, while trying to complete your mission successfully."
Their mission: Launch, navigate and land a spacecraft safely on the moon from the Brownsburg Challenger Learning Center.
The Brownsburg facility was designed to continue the mission goal of the Challenger Space Shuttle crew, which exploded in 1986, killing Christa McAuliffee, a civilian mission specialist and teacher. The hope of that shuttle mission was to inspire others to pursue and teach knowledge. The center will soon reach it's goal of providing the unique experience of a space adventure to 100,000 students.
North Clay Middle School has participated in the Challenger program since 1994.
The application process and five training sessions to prepare for the three-hour spaceflight mission is a hard commitment for some students. This year 48 students applied, but only 28 were selected.
"It's so interesting to work in this environment," said Kandra England, 14, navigation officer. She hopes to acquire a science-related job in the future. "Finding solutions, learning teamwork, and paying attention to details is great experience."
"If you're shy, you can break out of it, learn to speak out more by working in groups, and maybe make new friends while having fun," said Josh Dillman, 13, remote officer.
A wide variety of students are involved in the program.
"They may not all be honor roll students, or star athletes, or even the most popular kids," Gill said. "But each one rises beyond the challenge of the program to do their best. For many students it may be that one shining moment they need to start down the road to success."
Upon arrival, the students anxiously gathered in the conference area as the two commanders, dressed in simulated NASA flight suits, briefed them on the upcoming mission. Once the questions were answered, the mission began.
"Three...two...one..." the students counted down each second. "Liftoff," the soft voice of the communications officer announces above the applause. "We have liftoff."
Twenty minutes into the mission, with students divided between Mission Control and the Space Station, the excitement really began with a low oxygen emergency. With red lights blinking, sirens blaring, and danger announcements repeated every minute; students went to work on the first of several problems during the mission. Aboard the spacecraft, students quickly assess the situation and relay the information back to Mission Control, which was modeled after NASA's Johnson Space Center. The information is processed according to NASA protocol as both teams use skills learned in their training along with math, science, and decision making skills to calmly solve the problem.
"That was so cool!" someone in Mission Control shouted during the brief victory celebration.
Commander Bernadette Foley, a 31-year grade school teacher who works in the Space Station, and Flight Director Lorrie Bryant, a 25-year middle school teacher who works in Mission Control, work exclusively at the center to provide hands-on personal instruction during missions.
"The missions are always fun," said Bryant during a crew change, which allows students to experience both sides of the mission. "But the students from NCMS are always so excited to be here that we look forward to them coming."